by Sam McClenney, Research & Special Projects
A recent study commissioned by the City of Charlotte reports that the number of homeless families in Charlotte decreased by 27 percent from September 1, 2013, to August 31, 2014.
While this trend is promising, there are still more than 150,000 people in Mecklenburg County living below the poverty line, 60,000 of which are children and seniors, as noted by Second Harvest’s CEO Kay Carter in the Charlotte Observer article. These individuals are often both food insecure and homeless – their success must continue if Charlotte’s homeless are to transition from the streets into permanent homes.
What changes in Charlotte have made it easier for the homeless to lift themselves out of poverty? And how can we continue this trend in the coming years?
Keys to Success: Coordination & Mobilization
Helping the homeless is not easy. No one homeless person or family is the same, so creating a system that provides each the exact help needed is impossible. However, agencies in Mecklenburg County have taken note of what works (and perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t work), and are applying what they have learned.
According to Kelly Lynn, Director of Development at Supportive Housing Communities, the key to success has been a rigorous focus on best practices.
“Our community has been paying attention to practices that are most successful in other communities, along with learning new techniques at national conferences,” Lynn said. “One excellent initiative started in 2014 is Coordinated Assessment which connects individuals and families who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, to the best available shelter or housing resource.”
Another reason for the decline may be the rise in the number of local leaders focusing their energies on the issue of homelessness.
Thomas Wheeler, Founder of Urban Outreach, sees a shift in moving attention to action.
“From my perspective it is because more people are getting personally involved with the poor and homeless,” Wheeler said. “And when we come together as a community, positive change is inevitable.”
Coming together means generating empathy for the plight of the homeless, understanding that it is often out of the individual’s control.
Wheeler says: “I also think people are understanding that they too could be homeless one day (given a poor set of uncontrollable circumstances) and so their level of judgment of the guy or gal they see on the street corner has changed.”
Keeping the Ball Rolling
Success like Charlotte has achieved often results in praise, but it also brings pressure for continued success. Agencies responsible for this development will need to stabilize funding if they hope to continue their progress. Will this positive news provide a message of hope that can keep funders around? Carson Dean, of the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, believes so.
“We really believe funders, especially foundations, major donors and congregations, want to invest in solutions, not just continue to manage crises,” Dean said. “This message of success has resonated well and I believe will only become more important to secure sustainable resources.”
Wheeler and Lynn echoed this sentiment.
“On the positive side some will see it as their efforts being affirmed and they will be more encouraged to help even further,” Wheeler said.
“We track our outcomes and show our funders the proof that the people we serve have ‘a place to live again’ and are not returning to homelessness,” Lynn said.
2015 and Beyond
Agencies will have to ‘step up their game’ if they want to top this past year’s success. The community seems more then up to the task, as they shared their plans for the coming year.
“Men’s Shelter of Charlotte plans to move 500 men to more appropriate housing, launch a formal diversion program to begin working towards diverting 20% of homeless men from ever needing shelter, and continue to build a cadre of landlords and employers eager to assist men,” Dean said.
Supportive Housing Communities started a program this past spring called the Scattered Site Program, which targets families that have little to no income, but have nowhere to go.
“SHC is currently serving 24 families with this initiative. By early 2015, SHC anticipates serving 17 individuals and 39 families in our Scattered Site Program, and we anticipate this number growing through the year,” Lynn said.
Start-up ministry Urban Outreach has big plans in 2015.
“Urban Outreach, has been incorporated to help leaders who help the poor be more successful,” Wheeler said. “I am trying to keep leaders focused on what they do best, helping the poor get off the street, rather than having to become fundraisers, marketing experts or great speakers by providing those other things for them.”
While 2014 was a successful year for the agencies that tackle the needs of Charlotte’s homeless community as many clients found their way out of poverty and into housing, there is still much more to be done. Luckily, it sounds like 2015 might bring even more success.
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